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Gene variation predicts rate of age-related decline in mental performance, Stanford study
Date:10/25/2011

n version of the BDNF gene dictates that a particular building block for proteins, called valine, be present at a particular place on the protein. A less common - though far from rare - variation of the BDNF gene results in the substitution of another building block, methionine, in that same spot on the protein. That so-called "val/met" substitution occurs in about one in three Asians, roughly one in four Europeans and Americans, and about one in 200 sub-Saharan Africans. Such a change can affect a protein's shape, activity, level of production, or distribution within or secretion by cells in which it is made.

It appears that the alternative "met" version of BDNF doesn't work as well as the "val" version. This variant has been linked to higher likelihood of depression, stroke, anorexia nervosa, anxiety-related disorders, suicidal behavior and schizophrenia.

So Salehi and his colleagues decided to look at whether this polymorphism actually affected human cognitive function. To do this, they turned to an ongoing Stanford study of airplane pilots being conducted by two of the paper's co-authors - Joy Taylor, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Jerome Yesavage, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences -examining a wide array of neurological and psychiatric questions.

For this new research, Salehi and his colleagues followed 144 pilots, all healthy Caucasian males over the age of 40, who showed up for three visits, spaced a year apart, spanning a two-year period. During each visit, participants - recreational pilots, certified flight instructors or civilian air-transport pilots - underwent an exam called the Standard Flight Simulator Score, a Federal Aviation Administration-approved flight simulator for pilots.

This test session employs a setup that simulates flying a small, single-engine aircraft. Each participant went through a half-dozen practice sessions and a three-week break bef
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Contact: Bruce Goldman
goldmanb@stanford.edu
650-725-2106
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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